Sunday, November 05, 2006

Malaysian in a British queue

I enjoy reading articles by Sim Kwang Yang, a columnist for Malaysiakini. In his most recent article On ageing, dying and chicken rice, he recalled an incident where he was standing in front of the road-side stall near Bukit Bintang, waiting to be served with you-cha-kueh (deep fried dough-rolls).

He wrote: “Suddenly, a rather large woman of indeterminate age cut the queue in front of me, in the rude fashion that only KL people are capable of ...”

His tale reminds me of my own experience of being jumped by a woman in a queue.

Some years ago in Cambridge (yes, the one in the Britain, and not the USA), while waiting for an evening bus, in fact the last one of the day for the route I was embarking on, I found I was at the head of the short queue, only of some 5 people that late evening. Being slightly kiasu ('fear of losing', but in my case, perhaps best translated as 'grossly underconfident') I went to the bus stop very early so as to avoid having to make the 10 plus miles journey by foot, back to where I was lodging.

The Brits are very civic minded about queuing up properly and orderly for anything especially a bus, with some of my British friends complaining about their European Union partners (but to them still ‘foreigners’) who had no scruples about cutting queues.

It was mid winter with snow beginning to fall as we waited for our bus in the freezing cold, when an elderly (British) but plainly inebriated lady walked (or wobbled) right up in front of me, positioning herself as the new No 1 in the queue. She was of some venerable age and I was admiring her physical fortitude in enduring the damn cold that wintry evening, when I was already nearing statue-like status from the sub-zero temperature.

It didn’t strike my mind that she had ‘potong jalan’ (cut in front of me in the queue) until the lady standing behind nudged me. I turned around with a smile, just to be the safe side you know, and nodded to her. She smiled back too but instructed me rather firmly
“Tell her to get to the back. She can’t just cut in front!”

Jeez, there were only 6 of us, and it’s not as if one elderly and drunk lady cutting in front of us was going to deny anyone in the line a seat on the bus, but the Brits being Brits, orderly queuing was next to godliness.

My smile weakened into a pathetic grin (or more likely, grimace) as I tried to think of an excuse of not doing what she wanted me to do, but I quickly decided to keep my mouth shut when I saw the other 3 people, all middle age ladies, gesturing, nodding their heads and adding various comments for me to do what the first one had advised (to me, more like 'ordered') me.

If only there was a sweet hot babe among them I could count that as a god-given sign to strike up a friendly discussion with her on Asian mores and culture and the no-no of sending a senior citizen to the very back of a queue, and a very short queue at that. But those senior stalwart damsels of the British Empire were too formidable looking for me to ‘slow talk’ myself out of the embarrassment of reprimanding a sweet though intoxicated elderly woman to take her proper position in the queue.

Being an ardent admirer of Edward de Bono, master of lateral thinking, I did the only thing left for a pathetic weakling that I was/am, as most of my erstwhile girlfriends had sneeringly informed me I was/am – I walked to the back of the queue and still with a weak smile, told the heavily clad but visibly buxom agitators:
“That should be alright now. You’re back to your correct turn in the line.”

If I thought I was going to be applauded for my heroic (but in truth, cowardly) sacrifice, I was grossly mistaken, because I saw their annoyed looks.

One of them, the one who was directly behind me, suddenly advanced (I thought menacingly) towards me and 'ere I could cringe in appropriate terror and unconditionally surrender, grabbed me firmly though not roughly by my upper arm (where my quavering non-bicep was) and led me back to my earlier position, behind the old lady.

She looked at me sternly but not unkindly and chided:
“That’s not what we wanted you to do. You stay right ahead of us, luv.”

Strangely then, all of them (apart from the intoxicated queue jumper who still didn't know the high drama that was going on) smiled at me, with what they probably imagined to be rather sweet smiles.

Believe it or not, there's nothing more terrifying to me than a platoon of middle-age heavy-set thickly clad British matrons, all armed with their brollys and shopping baskets, beaming their Victorian smiles at moi and calling me 'luv' on that dark wintry evening. I was glad when the bus eventually arrived at my stop.


  1. Thats a nice one...
    ppl cutting queue is sometime so annoying especially car drivers...wish malaysians would learn a few of the brits habits..tht would be a nice turn.. but then we are malaysians wat..haha

  2. how come the matrons bravado did not extend to disciplining their own kind ?

  3. nicely told!

    i guess i'd been in malaysia too long but i got told off while waiting for a bus because i chose not to stand in the queue but beside the queue. i knew exactly who had come before me and after me and so did they, ... but you had to be in the right place!

    i've also learned not to stand still at tube stations in the rush hour. brits will queue behing anything that is stationary!

  4. Bah, you should have just told that line cutter off (politely), age be damned.

  5. nicely written KT...enjoyable writing. typical brits but typical malaysian too eh, old boy?

    Y1 (who could not login!)